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“Ben Did Go” paddle from Catalina to Newport raises upward $80,000

Forty-eight paddlers finished a 30-mile ocean trek from Catalina to Newport Beach on Saturday, Sept. 11, an effort that raised $80,000 for lifeguarding and water safety programs here and afar.

The annual paddle, this year dubbed the “Ben Did Go 6.0,” had double the participants this year and picture-perfect conditions during the eight-hour adventure.

“We got so lucky, it was amazing,” said Spencer Pirdy, who created the event after friend and longtime Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson died in 2014 during an ocean rescue.

The day before the paddle, there was a “howling” west wind, which would have made for difficult conditions crossing the channel, he said.

“We woke up and it was clean, clear and we had a small northwest wind swell that was pushing us right in,” he said. “We couldn’t have asked for better conditions.”

This year had the youngest-ever paddler, 15-year-old Luke Wheeler, of Newport Beach.

“He fully embodies the Ben spirit – total stud,” Pirdy said.

Ben Carlson, a longtime Newport Beach lifeguard, died in the line of duty five years ago on July 6. His legacy lives on through beach safety efforts, scholarships, education programs and more. (Photo courtesy of the Ben Carlson Memorial and Scholarship Foundation)

Also among the paddlers was the only female, Daniella Spina, a Seal Beach lifeguard who joined the effort and “crushed it,” Pirdy said.

Carlson died July 6, 2014, during a rescue south of the Newport Beach Pier. He was able to get the distressed swimmer to the rescue boat, but the longtime lifeguard then disappeared under the wild waves of a big swell.

Newport Beach has since installed a statue and dedicated its lifeguard headquarters in Carlson’s honor.

With more paddlers this year, the fundraising goal was more than double from its usual $30,000. A GoFundMe as of Monday morning showed $61,000 raised and Pirdy said more than $20,000 in checks were donated, making it the most successful fundraiser to date.

“Every year, it seems to be growing and getting better and better. I couldn’t be more happy for all the support,” he said.

The foundation provides $30,000 in college scholarships each year, handed out to three lifeguard recipients who show leadership and academic excellence and a passion for lifesaving similar to Carlson’s.

The foundation also supports an international resource program with equipment such as buoys and fins and demonstrations for underprivileged communities and a Water Safety Summit.

“It just shows how strong his legacy is and how many people he’s affected and continues to inspire,” Pirdy said. “The community rallying around him and what he stands for is nothing short of amazing.”

Source: Orange County Register

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